Priest lived double life

TO his adoring fans in court yesterday he was a modern-day martyr suffering a "travesty of justice" - the Catholic priest sentenced to 13 years' jail for sex crimes against children in northern NSW, including the Hunter.

But to his victims and their families he was the master manipulator who maintained the fiction of his "good character" for years so he could prey on the most vulnerable in his care.

"The offender in effect lived parallel lives," Sydney District Court Judge Peter Zahra said yesterday of the priest, who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

The priest blew kisses, waved and winked at more than 30 supporters as he entered the court, and cried that "the truth will be revealed" as he was led away.

"He grooms adults to believe he's innocent, the way he groomed children so he could commit crimes," said the mother of a victim who described the 13-year sentence as "a good outcome".

The priest was convicted of more than 20 indecent assault and sexual assault charges against four boys aged 10-13 between January 1982 and January 1993.

He told one boy to "just look up on the wall at Jesus" while performing oral sex on him, after saying the act was necessary to see if the child was "worthy" to be an altar boy.

The boy, who was teased by other children because of a physical deformity, told the priest he wanted to be an altar boy because "I wanted to belong to a group where I wouldn't get teased".

"If they could see me up the front of the church doing something important they'd stop teasing," he said.

Another boy from a difficult background said the priest was "pretty much all I had at the time for a bit of help".

Instead the priest indecently assaulted him with "a blank look or a smirk on his face".

The parents of another boy who misbehaved were pleased the priest took their son under his wing. It was years later before he told police about the priest's "little secret" of sexual assaults, while telling the boy: "This is what God wants. It will make things better."

The priest "exploited [the victims'] emotional vulnerability for his own sexual gratification", Judge Zahra said.

"In many respects his reputation enabled his offending to continue over many years."

The priest has appealed the conviction.